Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Schools Chief's Focus Is Security

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Schools Chief's Focus Is Security

Article excerpt

HACKENSACK -- Camera dead spots. Broken buzzers. Open doors and hallways during evening hours.

Interim Superintendent Joseph Abate said he noticed security problems in the six school buildings when he started the job in Hackensack a year ago. The flaws, he said, left city schools vulnerable to theft, vandalism and terrorism.

"The flaws were obvious," Abate said. "If they're obvious to me, they'll be obvious to others."

Last year, the district added cameras, replaced doors and locks, and tightened security at entrances to make schools safer. More improvements are planned, including the hiring of police to guard large events. Parents and officials say the schools are safe, but they'll aim for safer at a time of district child-luring incidents and threats, as well as the mass shooting deaths at a Connecticut elementary school in December.

The high school went into lockdown twice since December -- once after an employee found an abandoned bag, which turned out to be harmless, another time after a student emailed a bomb threat to a teacher in what he told police was a prank.

In October, a man tried to lure an 11-year-old middle school student into his car at a location about seven blocks from his school, police reported.

"I think [the security upgrades] are a precaution," said Nancy Wallace, a middle school parent and Parent Teacher Association treasurer. "I don't think it's a bad thing to have, especially with the situations going on in the world today."

The district spent $319,000 in two budget cycles for security improvements, using money from the maintenance budget, Abate said.

At the middle school, 15 cameras were added to cover dead spots around halls, stairways and an elevator at a cost of $30,000. Those dead spots, Abate said, were known to the students.

"If they wanted to do something mischievous, they'd go to that spot," he said. …

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